The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA) and the Boeing Company have joined to produce a reusable air-space vehicle that would dramatically change manned space flight, and the ways military payloads are deployed into space. The experimental spaceplane program, known as the XS-1 Phantom Express, would be able to carry satellites into low orbit within minutes. The aircraft then would land on a runway, where ground crews would prepare it for a next flight.
“The XS-1 would be neither a traditional airplane nor a conventional launch vehicle but rather a combination of the two, with the goal of lowering launch costs by a factor of ten and replacing today’s frustratingly long wait time with launch on demand,” said Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager.
The Phantom Express would be 100 feet long and 24 feet high, with a 62-foot wingspan – roughly the size of a business jet. The power would come from a single Aerojet Rocketdyne AF-22 engine, which would use liquid hydrogen as a fuel and liquid oxygen as an oxidizer. Boeing and DARPA have completed the first phase of the project. The next two phases would entail fabrication, and then flight. Once the Phantom Express is deemed airworthy, the development team plans on a future flight demonstration in which the aircraft would fly 10 times in 10 days.